Given the legal and political intricacies that come with the franchise, you can read an awful lot about the coming of cable television to the District and still not get the picture. But between the lines of the latest reports is a hint of good news: no adjustment to your set is necessary quite yet, but reasonable agreements are being made, and the first homes in each ward may be wired to go in early 1986.
About the only serious obstacles that could delay scheduled service now would be continued litigation generated by the two firms that failed to win the franchise. Otherwise, the D.C. government and District Cablevision, Inc. appear ready for the necessary approvals to proceed. Not only have the government and the franchise winner come up with an acceptable franchise agreement, but D.C. Cablevision also has reached agreement with the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. for providing the transmission facilities. Though the losing cable firms have attempted to portray the C&P connection as creating some sort of monopoly, the gist of the agreement is little more than a contract to do a wiring job. Otherwise D.C. Cablevision and C&P will be free and able to compete with each other and anybody else in other ways.
If the D.C. Council officially awards the franchise on time next month, construction of a 79-channel residential system would begin late next year; and the entire system would have to be completed within four years after construction begins. Some parts of the original bid would be delayed until after the system has 125,000 subscribers, at which point everything listed originally would have to be provided. By phasing in the equipment and facilities this way, District Cablevision would save $4 million to $5 million in start-up costs -- which makes sense for all parties.
All of these agreements have come ahead of schedule, which happens to be more than just a convenience for would-be viewers. If the D.C. Council can wrap up an agreement next month, the District could receive benefits of a new federal cable law; it permits cities to receive a 5 percent franchise fee and, in addition, to negotiate other benefit packages that cable operators could -- before enactment of the law -- deduct from the franchise fee. Under a grandfather clause, the city could get the full fee without deductions if the agreement is ratified next month.
What we're seeing here -- before we see a picture on the screen -- is a more modest, more realistic and more likely proposal than the overpromised, gold-plated, impossibly-priced dream bids that other cities have fallen for and never seen. The District can do without that kind of burning.